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Pacific Coast League Top 20 Prospects For 2019

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Yordan Alvarez (Photo by John Williamson)

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The 2019 season will be remembered as the “Year of the Ball” in the Pacific Coast League.

The introduction of the major league ball to the Triple-A levels resulted in an offensive spike unprecedented in modern minor league history, and the PCL felt the brunt of it with its multiple high-elevation locales.

A record 3,312 home runs were hit in the PCL this season, a substantial increase from 2,097 a year ago. The average ERA in the league was 5.49, up from 4.60. The average hitter slugged .477, compared to .423 last season.

Those conditions led teams to quickly promote pitchers out of the league or skip it altogether. As such, hitters make up 15 of the league’s top 20 prospects this season.

Pitchers who didn’t accumulate enough innings to qualify for this year’s list include Jesus LuzardoForrest WhitleyDustin MayA.J. PukGriffin CanningTony GonsolinCorbin MartinJose Suarez and Andres MunozJo Adell and Jaylin Davis headline the hitters without enough plate appearances to qualify.

Sacramento (Giants) swept Round Rock (Astros) in the PCL championship series. In fitting fashion, the teams combined for 33 runs in three games.

1. Yordan Alvarez, OF, Round Rock (Astros)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 225. Signed: Cuba, 2016 (Dodgers).

Alvarez led the minor leagues in home runs (23), RBIs (71) and total bases (158) when the Astros called him up June 9. His ability to crush any pitch over any part of the plate with plus-plus power made him a terror PCL pitchers had no answer for.

"No matter what we did, we couldn’t get him out,” Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary said.

Alvarez limits his swings and misses, manages the strike zone and uses the whole field, all traits that helped him continue mashing in the majors. Even as a below-average outfielder best suited to being a DH, Alvarez’s offense alone makes him a franchise player.

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2. Keston Hiura, 2B, San Antonio (Brewers)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 190. Drafted: UC Irvine, 2017 (1).

Hiura played in the PCL’s most pitcher-friendly park in San Antonio and raked. He earned his first big league callup in May and returned to the majors for good in June.

Hiura remains a premium hitter with his balanced swing, easy, all-fields power and quick adjustments. He ranked fifth in OPS (1.088) at the time of his second callup.

Even with below-average defense and arm strength at second base, his bat makes him a potential All-Star.

"The ball really comes off his bat,” Tacoma manager Daren Brown said. "He didn’t swing at a whole lot of bad pitches and if he swung at one, he didn’t swing at it again.”

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3. Gavin Lux, SS/2B, Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Kenosha, Wis., 2016 (1).

Lux joined the PCL on June 27 and led the league in batting average (.392), on-base percentage (.478) and runs scored (54) until he received his first big league callup on Sept. 2. He also finished third in slugging percentage (.719), showing newfound opposite-field power.

"He’s got power he doesn’t look like he has,” Tacoma manager Daren Brown said. "The ball really comes off his bat.”

A plus hitter with average or better power, Lux profiles at either middle infield spot defensively. He solved his longstanding throwing issues from shortstop but is still best at second base, where he showed above-average.

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4. Carter Kieboom, SS/2B, Fresno (Nationals)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Marietta, Ga, 2016 (1).

The PCL’s youngest position player on Opening Day, Kieboom finished sixth in the league in walks and seventh in on-base percentage, showing a promising mix of patience and extra-base power. He made his major league debut in April before returning to Fresno in May.

"I like his maturity level,” Reno manager Chris Cron said. "For a young kid, he handled himself well around older players for the first time. He looks the part.”

Kieboom improved defensively at shortstop, but an irregular throwing motion affects his accuracy and makes him a better fit at second base, where he played a career-high 41 games this season.

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5. Kyle Tucker, OF, Round Rock (Astros)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Tampa, 2015 (1).

Tucker hit 34 home runs and stole 30 bases in his return to Triple-A, one of only two minor leaguers to go 30-30 this year. He scuffled in April and July, but mashed in May, June and August to earn a Sept. 2 callup.

"When he comes to the plate, you don’t want to make a mistake,” Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary said.

Tucker struggled when he chased elevated fastballs but showed power to all fields when he stayed in the strike zone. His elite baserunning instincts make him a power-speed threat even with average speed and a low motor.

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6. Sean Murphy, C, Las Vegas (Athletics)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 202. Drafted: Wright State, 2016 (3).

Murphy missed nearly three months after surgery to repair a torn left meniscus and spent another three weeks on the injured list after reinjuring his knee in July. He performed when healthy, batting .308 with 10 homers in 31 games and receiving his first major league callup.

Murphy’s patience and plus power stood out, but his defense made the biggest impression. Even nursing injuries, he showed the hands and blocking of a plus receiver to go with plus-plus arm strength.

"From the other side in the visitor’s dugout,” Tacoma manager Daren Brown said, "there’s a lot to like watching him catch.”

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7. Zac Gallen, RHP, New Orleans (Marlins)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 191. Drafted: North Carolina, 2016 (3).

Gallen’s 1.77 ERA ranked second in the minors at the time of his June 20 callup. It was startling in the PCL, where the average ERA was 5.49. Gallen excelled for the Marlins and was acquired by the D-backs at the trade deadline.

Gallen mixed his four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup to keep batters guessing. He pounded the strike zone with plus command and a deceptive, crossbody delivery. Opponents hit just .153 against him.

"You see the numbers and they jump out at you,” Reno manager Chris Cron said. "But to watch him and see him live up to those numbers was even more impressive.”

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8. Will Smith, C, Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Louisville, 2016 (1).

Smith’s annual power increase reached a pinnacle this year. He hit 20 home runs in 62 games over three stints with Oklahoma City and added 13 home runs in his first 34 major league games.

Smith’s long swing leaves him vulnerable to strikeouts, but his power and patience give him enough offense to pair with his plus defense. With those skills, he took over as the Dodgers' No. 1 catcher by the end of July.

"Very tough hitter at the plate and a plus defender,” El Paso manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "He will be up there for a very long time.”

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9. Brendan Rodgers, 2B/SS, Albuquerque (Rockies)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Lake Mary, Fla., 2015 (1).

Rodgers hit .350 with 20 extra-base hits in 37 games with Albuquerque to earn his first two big league promotions this year. He settled in as the Rockies' second baseman before having season-ending labrum surgery in July.

A more patient approach helped Rodgers record the lowest strikeout rate and second-highest walk rate of his career. Combined with his premium hand-eye coordination and bat speed, he drew grades as a future plus hitter with above-average power.

"He just didn’t miss pitches,” Salt Lake manager Lou Marson said.

Rodgers struggled with the transition from his natural shortstop to second base and his surgery clouds his future, but his bat gives him promise.

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10. Luis Urias, SS/2B, El Paso (Padres)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 185. Signed: Mexico, 2014.

Urias hit .315 with a career-high 19 home runs before moving to the majors for good July 20. While his numbers excited, Urias’ swing got longer as he chased power and was exposed in the majors.

Urias’ defensive projections, on the other hand, ticked up as he played more shortstop. He drew above-average grades there and was voted the PCL’s best defensive shortstop by league managers.

"He has good instincts and feel for the game for his age,” Sacramento manager Dave Brundage said. "And he’s only going to get better.”

Urias’ youth, feel to hit and athleticism left evaluators optimistic he’s still a future everyday player, but only if he shortens his swing and adjusts his approach.

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11. Tommy Edman, 2B/SS, Memphis (Cardinals)
Age: 24. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Stanford, 2016 (6).

The 5-foot-10 Edman continues to outperform more physically gifted players. He hit .305 with 23 extra-base hits in 49 games at Memphis before being called up June 8 and summarily took over as the Cardinals’ primary third baseman.

A switch-hitter, Edman makes contact from both sides of the plate and rarely strikes out. His plus speed and instincts make him a prolific basestealer who rarely gets thrown out. He is above-average defensively at both second and third base, and even began playing some outfield this year.

Edman’s speed and contact profile make him a utilityman for most evaluators. The Cardinals see an everyday player.

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12. Tyler O’Neill, OF, Memphis (Cardinals)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Maple Ridge, B.C., 2013 (3rd round/Mariners).

O’Neill battled injuries and strikeouts for the second straight year, but he still showed impact tools and spent most of the season in the majors.

O’Neill continues to have plus-plus power to all fields and has leveled out his swing to make more contact. His plus-plus speed helps make him an above-average defensive corner outfielder.

O’Neill’s strikeout and walk rates have improved in the majors, but he still swings and misses alarmingly often both inside and outside of the strike zone. His contact skills are going to have to continue to improve for him to make the most of his tools, which few others can match.

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13. Josh Naylor, OF, El Paso (Padres)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 250. Drafted: HS—Mississauga, Ont., 2015 (1/Marlins).

The burly Naylor hit .314 with 31 extra-base hits in 54 games at El Paso and was in the majors for good by August. He posted the highest slugging percentage of his career (.547) while recording nearly as many walks (28) as strikeouts (30).

Naylor projects as a middle-of-the-order hitter with his excellent hand-eye coordination and plus-plus raw power. He makes frequent contact, uses the whole field and turns around velocity.

A converted first baseman, Naylor has improved in the outfield but remains below-average defensively. He is better in right field than left.

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14. Peter Lambert, RHP, Albuquerque (Rockies)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 185. Drafted: HS—San Dimas, Calif., 2015 (2).

Lambert gutted through pitching in Albuquerque with the new ball. His 5.07 ERA was more than a full run lower than the team average, and he joined the Rockies’ rotation on June 6.

Lambert further struggled in Colorado, but observers see a promising young starter beneath the numbers. His sinking, low-90s fastball, plus curveball, plus changeup and indefatigable mound presence portend better days ahead as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

"You can see the arm and you can see the breaking ball,” Sacramento manager Dave Brundage said "It’s so tough . . . when you’re pitching in Albuquerque. It’s a tough place to make a living as a pitcher.”

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15. Mauricio Dubon, SS, San Antonio (Brewers)/Sacramento (Giants)
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Sacramento, 2013 (26/Red Sox).

A torn ACL ended Dubon’s season last year, but he bounced back this year as a defensive whiz at shortstop. He made his big league debut with the Brewers in July before being traded to the Giants, and overall he hit .302 with a career-high 20 home runs between San Antonio and Sacramento.

"He seemed to be all over the field making plays,” Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary said. "On the defensive side of the ball, he was kind of fun to watch.”

Observers mostly consider Dubon’s power spike a product of the PCL, but his standout middle infield defense and ability to handle the bat already have him starting in the majors.

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16. Trent Grisham, OF, San Antonio (Brewers)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—North Richland Hills, Texas, 2015 (1).

Grisham moved up from Double-A on June 20 and laid waste to the PCL. His 104 total bases, 13 home runs and .776 slugging percentage all ranked second in the league from the time he joined until his Aug. 1 callup.

Grisham had more walks (23) than strikeouts (22) with his keen knowledge of the strike zone. A more aggressive approach resulted in a power spike—his 26 home runs in the minors this year more than tripled his previous career high of eight.

Grisham is an above-average runner underway despite his thick frame and can play all three outfield positions. How well he maintains his power will determine his future.

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17. Lane Thomas, OF, Memphis (Cardinals)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Knoxville, Tenn, 2014 (5th round/Blue Jays).

Thomas carried his breakthrough 2018 into 2019, emerging as one of Memphis’ top offensive threats and making his major league debut in April. He homered in his first major league at-bat and spent most of the second half with the Cardinals before fracturing his wrist at the end of August.

Thomas swings and misses a tad much, but he often finds the barrel and does damage. He combines line-drive power with plus-plus speed to create extra bases, and he has the power to send balls out to all fields.

Thomas is an above-average center fielder with an above-average arm. His well-rounded game gives him a secure major league role.

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18. Patrick Sandoval, LHP, Salt Lake (Angels)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-3. WT: 190. Drafted: HS—Mission Viejo, Calif., 2015 (11/Astros).

Sandoval moved up from Double-A in May and got beat up pitching in difficult conditions at Salt Lake. The underlying performance was more promising, and the Angels called him up Aug. 5.

Sandoval’s fastball ticked up this year to sit 93 mph and touched 96 mph. His plus changeup gives him an out-pitch, and his curveball and slider both showed average. Aggressive and competitive, Sandoval is hard on himself and occasionally loses his composure, which in turn results in below-average control.

Sandoval has the stuff and build of a back-of-the-rotation starter. Evaluators expect him to get there as he matures.

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19. Isan Diaz, 2B, New Orleans (Marlins)
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Springfield, Mass., 2014 (2 supp/D-backs).

Diaz ranked in the top 10 in the PCL in runs (89), total bases (218), home runs (26) and OPS (.973) when the Marlins called him up for his major league debut on Aug. 5. League managers also named him the PCL’s best defensive second baseman.

Diaz is a good athlete whose power has increased as he’s gotten more physical. He struggles to put together consistently good at-bats, however, and doesn’t barrel enough balls to take advantage of his above-average power.

Those limitations make him a future average regular rather than a star for evaluators, but he has youth on his side.

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20. Justus Sheffield, LHP, Tacoma (Mariners)
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Tullahoma, Tenn, 2014 (1/Indians).

Sheffield had nearly as many walks (41) as strikeouts (48) at Tacoma and was demoted to Double-A, but he still showed promising stuff. He jumped to the majors for good in late August and showed intriguing flashes in the Mariners' rotation.

Sheffield fastball sits 93 mph and touches 96 mph, and he splits the plate with his plus, mid-80s slider and upper-80s changeup. Sheffield is extremely aggressive and rushes his delivery, causing below-average command. When he slows down, he throws strikes and shows starter potential.

"Good arm and a hard-nosed player,” El Paso manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "He can take you into the sixth or seventh when he’s on.”

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